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Preston Manning and the Vancouver riots

Yes, of course, it is a big stretch to suggest that Preston Manning, for the former head of the Reform Party had anything to do with the rioting in Vancouver after the hockey game. But in trying to determine what is at the root of this mindless violent – and the almost equally mindless spectator sport of watching the violence and doing nothing – we need to examine just how it could be that so many young men’s lives are so meaningless.

For what else was this spectacle than a declaration that these young men have so little in their lives to give them meaning that they can find it in destroying their own city (or someone else’s city for the imported thugs). Surely if these lives were filled with other things, substantive things, they would not be so easily attracted to smashing stuff, burning cars and starting fights just for the fun of it. Life is a miracle, if lived right, but the evidence from downtown Vancouver suggests that for far too many young men it is somehow a joke, something to be squandered and wasted on deliberate idiocy. Maybe it's payback for our failure to deliver anything more meaningful.

A lot has changed in this country in the past twenty-five years. When I was in my twenties – the late 1960s and early ‘70s – these things didn’t happen. Maybe one way of trying to figure out why it happened here and now is to try to determine why it didn’t happen then.

It seems to me that one of the broad reasons is the systematic attack on government and indirectly on community. The pillars of neo-liberalism and globalization all attack community: privatization, starving government through tax cuts, deregulation – another term for capitalist free-for-all, the slashing of social programs and the commercialization of everything. “I shop therefore I am” is the philosophical motto of American style consumer democracy, a type increasingly evident here in Canada. We are defined and self-defined what we have not by what we stand for or believe or care about.

Margaret Thatcher expressed it best for the globalizers and free-marketeers: “There is no such thing as society, just individuals and families.” And she could have added, “buying stuff.” In his first statement after 9/11 George Bush said what people could do in response was go shopping and the “the economy.”And he was serious. This is what we get from the pinnacle of Western Civilization.

Well, if there is no such thing as society or community or neighbourhood – the commons - and you’re bored with your toys maybe a little smashing and burning will stimulate you back to life. And all of this mindless devotion to nothing is relentlessly promoted not just by the advertising and marketing world but for the right wing politicians like Preston Manning (still doing his mischief with his Manning Centre for Building Democracy institute declaring we are all getting more conservative)and Stephen Harper who have spent their political lives demonizing government and promoting individualism.

Murray Dobbin is a journalist and activist. This column originally appeared in his blog. Reprinted with permission.